Pros: Hand Ground wedges are made by the same craftsmen who create wedges for tour players. It’s one of the few custom wedge programs that allows consumers to select their favorite grind and tweak it to their preference. It also marks the first time average joes can get their hands on a raw Vokey wedge.
Cons: $350 is a lot for a handmade wedge, but it’s not out of line with Vokey’s competitors. Wedge fanatics will be disappointed that they can’t get handmade pitching wedges, gap wedges and sand wedges.
Bottom Line: A variety of stamping, shaping and sole options makes Hand Ground the go-to lob wedge program for exacting golfers. And if you want your wedge to come off the same grinding wheel as Adam Scott’s wedge, Hand Ground is for you.
Hand Ground isn’t the average wedge customization service.
Yes, like others it allows golfers to get their wedges with different stamps, letters and phrases. And it also gives golfers the option to pick a custom ferrule, shaft and grip. But Vokey’s WedgeWorks programs already provided all of those options before Hand Ground, along with the ability to purchase WedgeWorks exclusives — limited-edition and TVD wedges that are not available in stores.
Where Hand Ground breaks ground is in its focus on customizable grinds and wedge shaping, which allows golfers to tweak their favorite Vokey grind to their exact preference.
Four customizable grinds are available through Hand Ground: Vokey’s E Grind, M Grind, T Grind and V Grind, all of which have different playing characteristics. But the beauty of Hand Ground is that even if a golfer were to select a high-bounce wedge, such as a V Grind, he or she could have the wedge tweaked to play with less effective bounce.
That option, called “Pre-Worn” leading edge, is created by grinding off some of the metal on the front of a wedge’s sole. It works to “roll” the leading edge into the sole, allowing the leading edge to sit closer to the ground at address and cut through the ground better in firm conditions.
Conversely, a low-bounce wedge such as Vokey’s T Grind can be made to play with more effective bounce through the addition of a “Pro groove,” a small channel ground into the center of a wedge’s sole that moves the contact point forward. According to Bob Vokey, it can help golfers keep their wedges from digging into the ground on short pitches.
Above: A Vokey Hand Ground wedge with a pre-worn leading edge and a pro groove.
Aesthetic changes, such as making the leading edge straighter, the toe squarer or the top line thinner are also possible through Hand Ground.
It should be noted that Vokey is not the only wedge company to offer its grinding services to the public: Cleveland, Edel, James Patrick, Ping, Scratch and others offer wedge grinding and customization services, and unlike Vokey those companies expand their services to pitching, gap and sand wedges.
But none of those companies can claim the high usage of its wedges on the PGA Tour that Vokey boasts, which is the most mesmerizing part of the Hand Ground experience.
Above: Bob Vokey grinding a Hand Ground wedge for a customer at the Vokey tour department in Carlsbad, Calif.
Since Hand Ground wedges are created in Vokey’s tour department in Carlsbad, Calif., they’re made on the same machines by the same grinders that produce wedges for Adam Scott, Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner and the dozens of other Vokey wedge players on the PGA Tour.
Above: Each Hand Ground wedge comes with a certificate of authenticity that include the wedge’s specs and is signed by the person who ground the wedge.
Vokey Hand Ground wedges cost $350, and are available for purchase through Vokey’s website. All Hand Ground wedges have a raw finish, which means they will rust over time. According to Vokey, the build time of a Hand Ground wedge takes 10 days from the time the order is confirmed, not including shipping.
My Hand Ground was made with Vokey’s M Grind — the same grind that was on my current lob wedge, a retail Vokey SM4 60-10. I also ordered it to the same specs, which means that my Hand Ground wedge was nearly identical to my 60-10 on paper — same shaft, grip, swing weight and SM4 grooves. But when I took it to the course, the wedge performed differently thanks to the addition of a pre-worn leading edge.
Above: A Pre-worn leading edge on a Vokey M Grind Hand Ground wedge.
According to David Neville, Vokey’s marketing manager, wedges with pre-worn leading edges are requested by several tour players. The orders spike in the time before players are scheduled to head overseas for The Open Championship, where the modification helps golfer deal with the faster, firmer conditions that are typical on links golf courses. But you don’t have to be an Open Championship contestant to benefit from a pre-worn leading edge.
I had success with my retail Vokey 60-10 wedge I was fit for in December on straight-faced shots that required a lot of speed, because it allowed me to hit down on the ball steeply without fear that the wedge would dig. But I sometimes struggled to slide the sole of the wedge under the ball on delicate pitch shots from tight lies.
Above: The tale of two M Grinds.
The pre-worn leading edge solved that problem, because it made the leading edge sit slightly closer to the ground. That made it much easier for me to slide the wedge under the bottom of the ball, allowing me to contact the ball a groove or two higher on the face. The higher contact point made the ball climb up the face more, creating softer shots with more spin.
Above: Hand Ground wedges have the same SM4 grooves and face texture as Vokey’s retail wedge models to provide maximum spin.
As expected, the pre-worn leading edge made the wedge slightly more susceptible to digging compared to my 60-10. But the digging was limited to shorter shots I hit with a straight face and a lot of speed.
I noticed very little difference in the way the wedge performed on full shots and opened-faced shots, which says a lot about the cleverness of Vokey’s sole modifications. Adding a pre-worn leading edge or a pro groove will change a wedge enough to help a golfer do this or that, but it won’t change the wedge completely.
Looks and Feel
The second modification I had made to my Hand Ground wedge was having the top line made thinner, which Vokey does by removing a small amount of mass from the back of the top line. It’s a look that many golfers, particularly those who play irons with thin top lines, will appreciate at address.
Because Hand Ground wedges come with a raw finish, I speculated that they might have a slightly different feel than my retail wedges with a plated finish. But I was wrong — I didn’t find any difference in feel.
I did notice, however, that my Hand Ground wedge appeared smaller at address than my Vokey 60-10 with a plated “Tour Satin” finish.
Since Hand Ground wedges have no finish, they will rust as soon as they are introduced to water. In general, wedges with darker finishes look smaller than wedges with lighter finishes, which is why the rusted finish of a Hand Ground will look smaller than a wedge with a Tour Satin finish.
If you’re a Vokey lover, there’s only two good reasons not to get a Hand Ground wedge:
- It’s out of your price range.
- You haven’t taken the time to learn what grind or grind modification will help you play better.
$350 is a lot to pay for a wedge, especially for golfers who like to practice and can wear out as many as two new wedges per season. But it’s a two-edged sword — usually, if golfers are willing to put in the time to practice their wedge game, they’re also willing to spend the money to have their perfect wedge built.
For golfers who don’t know what grind is best for them, I can’t recommend a wedge fitting enough. Wedge makers are offering more grind options on their retail wedges than ever before, and golfers who aren’t testing all the different retail bounce, sole width and camber options aren’t getting the most out of their wedge games.
If you’ve already done such a fitting and think that a program like Vokey’s Hand Ground can help you, you’re probably right. Aside from the putter, no club is more important to scoring than the lob wedge, and golfers should take care to make sure they’re playing one that fits them as well as possible.
Jimmy Walker WITB 2020
- Equipment accurate as of the Farmers Insurance Open
Driver: Titleist TS3 (8.5 degrees @ 7.75, C1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue 6 X
Fairway wood: Titleist TS3 (18 degrees @ 17.25, C1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Blue 90 TX
Irons: Titleist 620 CB (3), Titleist 620 MB (4-PW)
Shafts: True Temper AMT Tour White X100
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 WedgeWorks (54-M, 60-04L), Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (64 degrees)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100
Putter: L.A.B. Directed Force 2.1T
Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
What It’s Like: TaylorMade Golf’s “The Kingdom”
One of the best parts of this job, beyond the people we get to meet, is the facilities. All of the core OEMs have a “place” that is exclusive, away from anything normal, and you gotta know someone to get a ticket in.
That’s what the “What It’s Like” series is about. Those certain OEM places with no doors open to the public. Those places that if you happened to sneak in, there is no way you can Fletch your way around into two steak sandwiches and a bloody mary.
I never admit this, but I used to manage a night club in Los Angeles called Les Deux (it was cool for a minute). It was a fun although soul-sucking endeavor but the thing that made the experience stick out was the exclusivity of it. If you got in by knowing someone, greased the door guy (me), or got invited, it was four hours of awesome. Yes, it’s a lame example, but there is, unfortunately, something about getting to the other side of a closed door that is just awesome.
TaylorMade Golf’s Kingdom is location No. 1, and as you would expect, it’s nothing short of pure golf ecstasy.
I have been to TaylorMade HQ quite a number of times, and typically those visits involve time at what I call the gear junkie mecca (short of Tiger Woods’ garage or the Nike Oven graveyard now called Artisan) AKA The Kingdom.
The coolest thing about it is how subtle the location is. Located just steps away from the front door of TM HQ (and a very random corporate basketball hoop) sits a small-yet-elegant building that if you didn’t know was there, you would fly past it. Once you pull into the side parking lot, unload your sticks, and head to the door, there is still that feeling of “will they actually let me in?”
Here’s the thing. The best (all of them) have been in here. To test, practice, hang out, get fit, get wowed to potentially be on staff and everything in-between. A schmuck like me should get nervous, but then it happens, the door opens and you are not only let in but you are greeted by the master of ceremonies and a man I truly adore Tom “TK” Kroll.
With the passion to match not only yours but anyone else who walks in, he makes sure every nuance is seen and experienced. From the lobby with current TM athletes on the wall to the locker room with your custom locker that sits next to an exact replica of Tiger’s bag. There are snacks, extras shoes, gloves, swag, coffee, beer, and all your wildest dreams…and we are barely in the facility.
From a 35,000 foot view, The Kingdom has everything a golfer would ever want, need, or wish for. Starting with Duane Anderson’s putter studio that has tested thousands of strokes from players ranging from a 20 handicap to Rory McIlroy. The data compiled in this room is staggering. We did a video (link below) that gives you the full rundown.
There are three (one with an Iron Byron for testing) main inside hitting bays with all the bells and whistles you would assume. TrackMans, cameras, big screens, fresh gloves hanging on the wall, and a club fitting matrix with every TM combination you could think of.
The outside hitting area is heaven on earth. There is no other way to describe. Huge hitting area with multiple styles of grass, lies, pins, etc. Any shot you would need to hit can be recreated here on grass with a ball flying into the air and not into a screen. My favorite area is the Flick Tee. In honor of the great teacher and longtime TM staffer Jim Flick. Its tucked up high and privately in the corner of the range under a tree and this may sound ridiculous but you can almost feel Mr. Flick standing there with you as you look out onto the facility. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
As mentioned, the man who manages your experience is Tom Kroll. He’s about as respected and beloved as anyone in the industry and for good reason. You combine passion with service you get an awesome human to hang out with. Everyone that has been through these doors has a TK story, which includes a chuckle and a smile.
I chatted with him recently about The Kingdom, and this is what he had to say.
JW: Walk me through how The Kingdom came to be what it is now? Basically origin to current day…
TK: Back in 1994, I was in R&D, running player testing, and we needed to find our own testing range. We built our headquarters in Carlsbad in the 1990s and added the range in 1998. Only robot, cannon and player testing were done at the start. Once in a while, a tour or staff pro would come out and test, but it was all operated from one building. At the time, what’s currently the clubhouse at The Kingdom was actually a maintenance building. But in 2010, The Kingdom was reimagined to the layout we have now.
Over the last three years I’ve been at The Kingdom, we’ve added GEARS, Quintic high-speed cameras, and a Foresight simulator bay. We transformed the putting lab with a Perfection Platforms articulating floor and SAM technology. Last year we resurfaced the main tee, redesigned and dedicated the Flick Tee, underwent a complete renovation of the short game area with new bunker complexes, redesigned the targeting downrange, and developed a par-3 routing. We partnered with Kurt Bowman Design, a longtime designer under Jack Nicklaus.
Our superintendent Mark Warren and his crew have done incredible work with our current maintenance equipment, and I can’t wait to see the conditions after we deliver a brand new fleet of brand new Toro equipment. We structured a long-term partnership with Toro and Turf Star Western.
JW: What is the simple function of The Kingdom?
TK: We still have the robot bay and R&D does development work almost every day. We are mostly a resource for the entire company: Global Sports Marketing (Tour), developmental pros and ams, AJGA standouts, our Crusaders (club professionals), and commercial teams. We host pre-lines to introduce new product to our at-large teams and training events. We’re even a PR resource, hosting media, social influencers, celebrities, and professional athletes.
We also act as a hub for our Crusaders. They send their members to us, and we wholesale back to the staff account. I’ll do a significant amount of corporate events, charity events and have had “Flicks at The Kingdom” where we set up a giant projector and our employees bring their kids, beach chairs and blankets to watch a movie out on the range. Really a fun and cool event.
JW: Give me three awesome stories or experiences from your time there that you are cool sharing.
TK: It’s tough to only pick three! From Reggie Jackson stopping by to Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, President Bush. Those may be the most haughty name drops of all time! What can I say, it is beyond the coolest job I have ever had! It’s truly tough to pick, but here are my three…
Story 1: Tiger was preparing to make his first PGA Tour start after fusion surgery and he just spends the day grinding out here. He was testing an early proto of the TW irons and to see how much speed he still had. There’s a sound that only he and maybe two or three others make when they center it up. That sound is something that goes through your body, I can still hear it. It sticks with you.
He’s playing old school lofts, which are three degrees weaker than any other tour pro, but the carry distances were still there, the windows he hits it through, holding it against the wind, flighting a 6-iron even ripping a 5-wood 275 yards. His feedback and ability to discern the most minute details working with the advanced teams developing the irons was fantastic to witness.
To come full circle, I played with him in the Southern Cal Amateur when he was 16-years-old and had a front-row to his 62 at Hacienda, I was keeping his scorecard so he has my autograph. To again be standing three feet from him while he goes through the process is just special.
Story 2: I’m going to put two guys in the same bucket (because The Kingdom is so magical, I hope the golf gods are okay with it). Rory now spends a day out here the week of Farmers–he has for the last two years, and with the U.S. Open there 2021, I think he’s a lock for the next few. He went through two sets of irons in a wind quartering off the right at 20-25 mph. The consistency of launch, speed and spin were shockingly close! It was one of the greatest ball-striking exhibitions I’ve ever witnessed. We handpicked the range after his day, it took us 10 minutes He’s also the most gracious, down to earth person.
Jon Rahm stops by five or six times a year. To watch his sessions in the putting lab, to see Duane show him what’s changing and getting Jon back to baseline and see his confidence, to the 4-iron flop shots after we tell our Seve stories. Jon is part of the family. His brother and dad came out before Jon and Kelly’s wedding. He’s one of the two or three others where the sound goes through you.
Story 3: Has to be Operation Game On (OGO). We have partnered with Tony Perez for over 15 years, we are the cherry on top of a 6-10 week program where wounded veterans take lessons and the graduation is a fitting at The Kingdom. I had a dear friend, Joe Horowitz, who’s a golfer and a musician, here late one day and I mentioned the OGO guys were coming the next day. It’s Veteran’s Day and the Marine Corps Birthday. Not to mention Jon Rahm would be here for a last tweak before he left for Dubai. Joe shows me a video of him singing the national anthem at the Jaguars game a few weeks before, and we both say let’s do that for the OGO guys. I get in early and send an email to all employees to be on the tee at 9 a.m. sharp. We have the OGO guys arrive and Jon is hanging in the locker room. I’m stalling to get all the employees onto the tee through the side gate, I walk the boys into the bay and hit the roll up door. Outside are 250 employees cheering these guys on! Joe sings the anthem (goose bumps every time), then happy birthday to Jon and the marine corps. There’s fittings, a pizza truck, Jon Rahm signed U.S. Open staff bags for the OGO boys. Then, get this, Jon goes on and wins that week in Dubai!
JW: If you could change anything about the property or the experience what would it be?
TK: At TaylorMade, the relentless pursuit of improving is in our DNA. The Kingdom is no different. We’re constantly innovating and reimagining the downrange experience. From targeting, to conditions and turf types, we’re always nuancing and squeaking out ways to be better. One example, we’re designing each of our targets with a specific purpose. When players are testing at The Kingdom, we want them to feel that every shot has a consequence. So, we want to deliver a real-world experience in every testing situation. We went through a massive redesign last fall and are currently still working with the advanced research team on new ways to enhance our testing and fitting experiences to meet the way that players perform in competition.
When it comes to the overall experience, The Kingdom has transformed from a predominantly R&D and fitting facility to the most capable environment to test, measure and understand how equipment performs and how golfers interact with their equipment. I call it the ultimate truth machine. We help golfers at every level uncover the insights they need to improve. After each session, we’re going to know everything about the club, the player and the ball flight.
So we came from a place where we were mainly focused on research, fitting, and selling. Our goals have changed. Now we obsess over how to help golfers get better.
What would I change? If you’re curious and passionate about making change, the answers are out there. The first thing we do is listen. We’re going to change everything that needs to be changed in order to meet our goals. I have an incredible focus group to bounce ideas off of. To ask our tour pros, club professionals, and teachers for feedback on the design ideas and what they like and prefer is fortunate. We’re constantly learning, we’re constantly improving, and if there’s a better way do something, then we’re going to figure it out and do it.
JW: What does the kingdom look like in 10 years?
TK: We have a lot of incredible plans for new targeting, bunker complexes, and refining the purposeful design of the range and short game area. Beyond that, we have designs for new teeing areas, a new short game complex, adding another GEARS system and Foresight Simulator, along with other new technologies. I can’t disclose all we do, since the R&D guys get a bit jumpy when I start going on about all the cool stuff and high science! I don’t know exactly what The Kingdom looks like in 10 years as technologies and our understanding continue to improve, but I do know give me six months, and we’ll have done something new. Always grinding to get better!
JW: Tell me a little bit about your career at TaylorMade.
TK: 31 years is hard to do in a “little bit” but I’ll try to give you the Clif Notes! Bob Vokey ran our Tour department and had me running his repair shop in Vista after George Willett took a job driving the Tour truck for TaylorMade. I was refinishing wooden clubs and repairing clubs for the local country clubs. I told Bob I was going broke making $4.50 an hour and driving all over San Diego. I asked if he could get me a job at TaylorMade and I started on the custom line with Wade Liles! Get to work at 2 p.m., off at 1 a.m. and golf in the morning. It was the life! Not to mention, I was lucky enough to meet my wife who worked for the company.
I started our player testing and worked for the great Dr. Benoit Vincent–the smartest man I know. I was a pretty good player, and I played a bunch of USGA and national amateur events. But when I did a TV commercial, I lost my amateur status and made the decision to turn pro. I quit my job and started that journey. Our CEO wanted me to take a leavem and I said: “I need to be all-in on this.” I had two children, a mortgage, car payments and had to buy health insurance while getting through all three stages of Q School. I realized I was a better amateur than a tour pro. We had our third child, and then I got the sales rep job in San Diego. After 10 years of sales, I moved inside the building and the ran innovations department before taking over our metalwoods category when we hit our highest market share in history. I spent a few years in product creation, ran global experiential for a few years and then got the best gig in all of golf here at The Kingdom. Been here for three years, and we’re just getting started!
Puma Golf teams up with Ernie Els in support of Autism Awareness Month
April is National Autism Awareness Month, and Puma Golf has teamed up with ambassador Ernie Els in support of the Els for Autism Foundation.
Throughout April, Puma will donate a portion of every individual sale of the brand’s Ignite Pwradapt Caged shoes with the proceeds going towards the Els for Autism Foundation.
Every pair of Caged shoes sold this month will include a blue Els for Autism shoe bag and puzzle piece ribbon lapel pin – with the color blue and the puzzle pieces representing Autism Awareness.
The Els for Autism Foundation helps deliver and facilitate programs designed to serve individuals with autism spectrum disorder. You can purchase the shoes here.
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